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Best of John Grochowski
A Shuffle Through the Gaming Mailbag8 August 2006
Q. I just got done reading two video poker books and I must say that there are some things in there that completely contradict what I read in your book among the others that use "expected value" and math as the basis.
The first book talks about some error in these imperfect random number generator chips that makes aces pop up more often. It says that's why you should only hold the ace in ace-jack unsuited.
The other book talks about how you don't need to play max coins because royal flushes are super rare and who cares about billions of hands, we need results now.
Are these guys absolutely insane or what? I need to hear it from someone like you because even though I am 99 percent sure they are crazy, I am still a tiny bit unsure. I am a math person and to me there is only one right play for each hand.
A. Both the authors you mention are known for their "unconventional" theories, and in video poker, both are incorrect. There is no flaw in the RNG that makes Aces pop up more often. And we're not talking about billions of hands per royal flush. On the average, you'll hit a royal about once per 40,000 hands. That's not an everyday occurrence, but it's often enough that royals, with full coins played, account for about 2 percent of our overall payback.
I know video poker pros who play at expert level and chart every session. Over time, the expected percentages hold up. The percentages wouldn't hold up if a denomination such as Aces came up more frequently than expected, at the same time suppressing the frequency of other cards. Nor would they hold up if royals turned up less frequently than expected.
Stick with the math. That's the way the games really work.
Q. I've started to see the World Series of Poker Final Table Bonus video poker games in casinos. The bonus round is fun. It gives video poker a little more pizzazz. It makes me wonder why we haven't seen bonus games on video poker before.
A. We have seen bonus rounds on video poker before, going back nearly a decade. They just haven't attracted big play.
In the late 1990s, Casino Data Systems introduced a video poker game called "Reel Deal." At the top center of the screen was the representation of three bonus reels. When the player got to the bonus round, the reels would spin, and if three 7s lined up, the player would get a bonus.
Reel Deal carved out a niche in some casinos, and disappeared quickly from others. It took me by surprise a couple of years ago to see a bank of the games in the Las Vegas Hilton --- you just don't see them anymore. CDS is long gone from the scene, but Aristocrat Gaming now has the rights to the game, and is trying to revive it.
Another early attempt at putting a bonus round on video poker was Family Feud Video Poker, introduced by Silicon Gaming at the World Gaming Congress and Expo in 2000. You might remember Silicon Gaming --- they brought slot games to an oversized video screen, the length of a regular slot machine, and put the games on a hard drive.
Family Feud Video Poker took the player to a bonus round on any hand of four of a kind or better. A family team appeared on the screen, and a camera mounted on the unit enabled the game to capture the player's image and include it with the family. The player didn't answer questions --- he or she pushed a button to stop a spinning answer. If it landed on the right answer, the player got a bonus and the round continued.
A video slot version using the same bonus round and carved out a small niche in casinos, but I'm not sure I ever saw the video poker version outside the expo.
The problem with video poker games and bonus rounds is that video poker players are a fussy lot --- and I mean that in a good way. I'm fussy when it comes to video poker, too. Players want high pay tables and a good shot to win. A substantial portion of video poker play comes from customers who know they're getting a better deal on Jacks or Better if they see a 9-6 pay table than if they see an 8-5 pay table.
Bonus rounds muddy the water. Educated video poker players looked at Reel Deal and saw lower pay tables, and didn't know how much the bonus round added to the expected return. So they avoided the machines and went to the games they knew.
Some of that will happen with World Series of Poker Final Table Bonus. I expect it to be a success, largely because the bonus round is built around Texas Hold'em, the hottest game around. But it will be a success only within a niche of players who figure the bonus fun is worth more than a little extra on the pay table.
Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.
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Best of John Grochowski